Wildlife officials worry invasive lizard population is growing after one spotted in Polk County

The tegu lizard disrupts natural ecosystem

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - A Winter Haven couple recently spotted a rare invasive lizard from their backyard porch.

Jim and Barbara Walter didn't know it at the time, but the lizard is known as the tegu. The scaly creature is known to exist in small populations in southern Florida and in parts of Hillsborough County.

But sightings are rare in Polk County.

"I thought it might have been a crocodile," Jim said. "He's about, I'd say three feet long.  He was a good size."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is worried their numbers are growing.

"They could potentially be as detrimental to our wildlife as pythons or some other non-native species," said Gary Morse with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The problem is the lizard eats just about anything, including eggs.

The lizard spotted in Winter Haven is eating eggs from the protected gopher tortoise.

"Any non-native species, once established, has an effect on the native wildlife and the ecosystem," Morse said. "We are concerned about protecting and conserving the natural ecosystem in Florida."

Recently, researchers from the University of Tampa set up a trap near where Walter found the lizard, but so far they haven't had any luck.

"We just haven't been lucky enough to catch him yet," Jim said.

Right now state researchers and biologists are trying to get a grasp on the tegu population and its impact.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission even just hired professional tegu trappers.

The agency is asking for the public to help report sightings. If you see this invasive lizard, you're asked to call 888-IVE-GOT1 or log on and report the sighting at www.ivegot1.org.

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